Women in America need to know they have a right to self-defense as they are increasingly subject to an all out war on their bodies, minds and spirits by Republicans. Women, and the men who care about them, also need to know that Christian theologians like myself and others firmly believe that God does not authorize violence against women nor condone it, that women too can hear the voice of God in their consciences, and women can make sound moral choices about their own lives.
The idea that violence against women can be part of “God’s plan” raised its ugly head recently in the presidential campaign. Rick Santorum, the most religiously conservative candidate in the GOP field and the current front-runner. explained his religious opposition to abortion even in the case of rape or incest, because “in the sense of rape” this is a “gift” of God, albeit “a gift in a very broken way.” Thus, women and girls who are raped and become pregnant should “accept what God has given to you.”
No. God didn’t do this to women and girls, nor authorize someone raping them, and a pregnancy that results from that violence isn’t a gift. Rape or incest is violence and therefore sin, and God is not the author of sin against women. Nor do women have to passively accept violence done against them as “God’s will.” Conservative Christian theology is obviously playing an increasingly large role in the GOP war on women and it is important that this theology be challenged at every turn.
Conservative politics is also a driver of the war on women as women’s health and safety; women’s basic right to be free from violence is being made a partisan political issue in new ways. The landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support and was signed by President Clinton in 1994; it was reauthorized with the same bipartisanship in 2000 and again in 2005. But not this year. The new reauthorization legislation places an increased emphasis on reducing domestic homicides and sexual assaults, addresses the high rates of violence among teens and young adults, and extends the protections to LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, and gives Native American tribes the authority to prosecute crimes.
Members of the GOP have objected to this reauthorization legislation; their objection is apparently, ‘that’s too many victims.’. Is the GOP really saying only some women can be legitimate victims of domestic violence, not all? Patrick Leahy (D-VT), one of the co-sponsors of the reauthorization bill, expressed astonishment that the GOP is only willing to protect some women from violence, not all. “You cannot say that we will seek to stop domestic violence, but only for certain people,” he said. “It just boggles the mind. It goes against everything I ever knew as a prosecutor, but it also goes against everything I know as a human being.”
The human right to defend yourself and others from unjustified attack, when applied to nations, is called Just War theory. But some of the insights of Just War thinking can shed light on women’s right to repulse this GOP war against them.
We have a just cause, namely the increasing aggression by conservative political forces against women’s basic humanity, and our human right to self-determination, and the integrity of our bodies.
Women are the most competent authorities to determine their own physical and mental well-being. The photo of an all male panel opining on birth control convened by GOP Chairman Darrell Issa went viral within hours. Issa defended the exclusion of a woman from his all-male panel on contraception: She’s not “appropriate and qualified.” But women are uniquely qualified to speak from their own consciences and defend their own religious freedom in regard to reproductive ethics.
Furthermore, women defending themselves against the GOP war against them is motivated by a right intention, namely ending this unconscionable war on our health, safety and even lives.
But I am a proponent of Just Peace theory, not Just War; Just War thinking can be used to just justify more war and an accelerating spiral of violence. Just Peace theory is based on a series of practices that have a proven track record of reducing violence, and increasing peace and justice. All three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, support the ten practices of Just Peacemaking.
A crucial Just Peace practice for countering this GOP war on women is “non-violent direct action.” One way women are taking non-violent action against the GOP war on women can be movingly seen in the recent “Speak Loudly with Silence for Virginia Women” protest organized by using Facebook . This silent protest was pulled together to protest a bill that “would require women seeking an abortion to first undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound.”
The Facebook call for volunteers for a silent vigil shows great insight into the nature of power and non-violent protest.
“We think silence in the face of this struggle and their unconstitutional rules presents the strongest response to their assault on women. Please come out and stand up for our rights and for the rights of all women in VA to choose the best reproductive route for themselves. These people are used to signs, yelling, chanting etc. It is not new. They are not used to silently being stared at and having to look us in the eye. It gives us the power.”
The vote on the bill was postponed.
Such protest is one powerful way to take non-violent direct action. Voting, in a democracy, however, is the greatest power of all. The escalating war on women is creating a political backlash. Current polling, for example, suggests the GOP will lose on the insurance requirement for birth control. It also shows majorities of voters support marriage equality for LGBT people.
In a democracy, political leaders work for us. We can bring an end to the GOP war on women by electing leaders who respect women’s physical, mental and moral equality, and who will support legislation to protect their health and safety.
We can also lift our religious voices; as a Christian I claim that women are fully created in the image of God and have equal dignity and worth.
As of Feburary 21, 2012, it appears that the “Speak Loudly with Silence for Virginia Women” protest, as well as other criticism of the controversial “transvaginal ultrasound” bill in VA is working. VA Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is backing off his unconditional support for a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is an On Faith panelists.